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Discussing impact on law students, legal profession if CA Supreme Court lowers state bar ‘cut score’

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The state bar exam for California has long been known in legal circles to be one of the toughest in the country to pass.

California’s ‘cut score,’ the grade required to pass the exam, is higher than all other states except one: Delaware. But a debate has been raging in legal circles across the Golden State about whether California’s cut score for the bar was realistic. Now, the state’s high court is taking action.

The California Supreme Court has amended the state's ‘Rules of Court’ to say that the supreme court, not a State Bar of California board, will be the body to decide what a passing score is. This follows a 2016 that saw just 62 percent of test-takers from American Bar Association accredited schools pass the test. Under New York State’s cut score, 87 percent would have passed.

The discrepancy has alarmed some in the legal profession. In February, deans from 20 ABA-accredited schools wrote the Supreme Court of California and requested that it lower the cut score. They argue that the pass-fail rate is a result of the cut score being arbitrarily high, not a sign that the people taking the test aren’t qualified to be lawyers. Others disagree, saying that the Supreme Court is rushing to change the score without looking at all the evidence, and point to law schools lowering admission standards to keep tuition dollars flowing.

Should California lower the cut score of its bar exam? How would this impact the legal profession?


David Faigman, Chancellor and Dean of the UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco

Robert Anderson, associate professor of law at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu